Can you have too many systems?
So, you’ve been running your business for some time now. You feel you’ve pretty much got things sorted, process wise. Your accounts system talks to your creaky old CRM system (after a fashion at least), and you have a specialist application that handles the jobs you do for people or the products you sell – although it doesn’t really link to anything else, and you aren’t really sure if it’s worth the subscription costs you are paying.
And then there’s the time and attendance system running on a dusty old PC in the corner. And that really important Excel spreadsheet that handles something really important, although you don’t fully understand what and the person who wrote it unfortunately no longer works for you to be able to tell you.
And now, you’re hearing about this great new way of working in ‘The Cloud’. Lots of different online apps out there, and they all talk to each other – like magic, apparently. Providing of course, you pay your monthly subscription for each and every one of them, and that they remain in business without either running out of venture capital or getting wiped out by a new ransomware variant they hadn’t anticipated.
This probably sounds quite a pessimistic view of modern business – no-one wants to run their business this way but, despite that, many companies evolve just like this. They’ve been running for years without a cohesive strategy for application development, and without fully considering the cumulative effects of the IT decisions they’re making.
The reality is that, without a cohesive strategy, you will hit a very expensive ceiling eventually. Expensive because the lack of reliability and efficiency prevents future growth, and a ceiling because you simply can’t refine what you’ve got any further, it’s already working as well as it can do.
Every business is different, and has its own unique processes and requirements – built up over time in the pursuit of doing things better, faster or cheaper than its competitors.
The problem with piecemeal enhancements, like those described above, is that you aren’t thinking far enough ahead. You may fix the problem in front of you, but not without potentially introducing multiple problems down the line that you hadn’t considered.
Having too many systems is a typical result of working in this way. Lots of independent silos of data that you can’t easily get to and analyse without a lot of extra effort. Bottlenecks between systems that waste time and throughput. Extra manual tasks and checks that require you to employ more people than you need to.
So.. before you agree to yet another bolt on application to your current systems, have a think about whether this is a good long term decision. At the very least, get some work done to document how everything currently fits together, and where the critical processes are. Spend some time talking to your staff about the issues they have, and where they’d like to see improvements. Have a look to see if there are integrated, off the shelf systems that could do many of the things you need better than you do currently. Consider the possibility of building a new integrated solution yourself (or with help if you don’t have available developer resource) so you don’t need to rely on third party providers for critical business processes.
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